Sunday, June 28, 2009

Brisbane Conference: Registration Now Open

As is apparent from the news in my last post, there's a lot going on at IASPR. But before we get to 2010, there's the conference planned for Brisbane (13-14 August):
Generously sponsored by the Romance Writers of America, Samhain Publishing, Depaul University, the University of Queensland, and Queensland University of Technology, the First Annual Conference on Popular Romance studies brings together scholars from all over the world, discussing many different aspects of popular romance.

Eminent Australian scholars Juliet Flesch and Lisa Fletcher headline the event. Presenters come from all corners of the globe, including the US, South Korea, Indonesia, India, New Zealand, Italy, and of course, Australia, filling six panels discussing everything from popular romance novels, Japanese manga, and a biography of Princess Diana, to Georgette Heyer, Bollywood movies, and Twilight.
The schedule of papers and events is now available, and the registration page is at IASPR's website.

Saturday, June 27, 2009

IASPR and JPRS: Calls for Proposals and Submissions

The International Association for the Study of Popular Romance's website is now almost complete (there are some sections still under construction) and two important items which are now available concern the Journal of Popular Romance Studies and the 2010 IASPR conference:
The Journal of Popular Romance Studies (JPRS) is a peer-reviewed on-line journal presenting scholarship on representations of romantic love in popular media, now and in the past, from anywhere in the world. We welcome theoretical and empirical contributions from all relevant disciplines, including Art, Communications, Comparative Literature, Cultural Studies, Education, English, Film Studies, History, LGBTQ Studies, Marketing, Philosophy, Psychology, Religious Studies, Sociology, Women’s and Gender Studies, as well as interdisciplinary approaches.
For its inaugural issue (Winter 2010), the Journal of Popular Romance Studies is now considering papers on representations of romantic love in popular media, now or in the past, from anywhere in the world.
For more details about submitting a paper to JPRS, see the full Call for Submissions.

IASPR's Second Annual Conference on Popular Romance will be held from 5-7 August 2010 in Leuven, Belgium. The theme of the conference is "Theorizing Romance" and
IASPR is seeking proposals for innovative panels, papers, roundtables, discussion groups, and multi-media presentations that contribute to a sustained conversation about popular romance across all genres and in all media.

Conference goals:

* To bring to bear contemporary critical theory on the texts, paratexts, and extra-texts of all forms and media of popular romance
* To theorize the nature and examine the tension and relations between all genres, forms, and media of popular romance
* To include comparatist and intercultural analyses of popular romance by examining the differences between national traditions of popular romance and the translations of popular romance in and across national and cultural boundaries.
For more details see the Call for Proposals.

Friday, June 26, 2009

Bollywood Romance

Eric's at Romancing the Blog today, discussing and recommending some Bollywood movies:
A few years ago, as I was wrapping up my first class on romance fiction, an Indian American student told me that she had loved these novels partly because they reminded her of Bollywood movies. When I told her that I’d never seen one, she was shocked [...]

Om Shanti Om
, whose reincarnation / mystery / revenge / love story plot and echoes of older movies reminds me [...] contributed lots of catch phrases to our family lexicon, including [...] the movie’s big quotable motto: “If it isn’t a happy ending, then the movie isn’t over yet.”

Our latest favorite is a movie set in Amristar, the Punjabi city you might have seen in Bride and Prejudice. It’s called Rab Ne Bana di Jodi, which means something like “A Couple Made by God,” and its plot draws on all sorts of tropes familiar to romance readers : the abrupt marriage of convenience (in this case, to please a father); courtship under a secret identity; healing and redemption through love. Again there’s the mix of sentiment and humor, subtle and broad; again there are lots of winks and inside jokes that I’m actually starting to get. What really wows me in the movie, though, is that it’s a version of Inspirational romance, but with a very different version of religious faith and its relationship to romantic love. My favorite song in the movie, “Tujh Mein Rab Dikhta Hai” (”In You I See God / Oh, What Shall I Do?”), features our hero by turns in a temple (Hindu? Sikh? I’m not sure), then a church, then a mosque, singing a hymn to his wife the whole time. I don’t know if that’s anything special to an Indian viewer–there’s a similar ecumenical theme in another film I liked, the historical epic Jodha Akhbar–but I’ll tell you, it blew me away and has been haunting me ever since.

Please join Eric over there to read the rest of his post and join in the conversation.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Georgette Heyer: Colloquium and Call for Papers

Via the RomanceScholar listserv and jay Dixon comes news of a forthcoming colloquium on Georgette Heyer:
This conference, organised jointly by Lucy Cavendish College and Anglia Ruskin University, is aimed at all those with an interest in Heyer's historical novels, whether academics or general readers. It will include formal papers and more informal discussion sessions. We would welcome papers on any aspect of Heyer's historical novels. Possible topics might include:
  • sources and influences
  • theoretical approaches to her works
  • critical and popular reception
  • class, gender and sexuality
Proposals for 20 minute papers should be sent to me, Sarah Brown [...], by 30th June 2009.
The colloquium will be held at Lucy Cavendish College on Saturday 7 November 2009. Professor Sarah Annes Brown, of Anglia Ruskin University, is "planning a short presentation on Lady of Quality, inspired by the writings of the late Eve Kosofsky Sedgwick."

I took the photo of the cover of
Lady of Quality from Of Books and Bicycles, which has a review of the novel.

Monday, June 22, 2009

Adiós Diana Hamilton

The I Heart Presents blog reports that Diana Hamilton died last month. She was a prolific author who wrote around 50 novels for Harlequin Mills & Boon between 1986 and 2009. A posthumous novel, Kyriakis's Innocent Mistress, is due for publication later in the year.

Kate Walker, another HM&B author, remembers Hamilton as "a tiny woman with an infectious, live-wire personality." In an interview on the Mills & Boon website, when asked "What quote or personal saying do you live by? Who said it?" Hamilton replied "'I can do it!' — Me."

As she also revealed in that M&B interview, Spain was one of her favourite settings for her novels "because it’s fabulous and so romantic" so I thought I'd include a quotation from her A Spanish Vengeance: "Things left undone, important things, didn't bring a peaceful mind" (168). This seems to have been true with regards to her own life as a writer: in that interview she revealed that one of the things she liked least about being an author was the deadlines and "With typical professionalism she turned in her last book just a couple of months before she died" (Walker).

  • Hamilton, Diana. "A Spanish Vengeance." 2003. Spanish Affairs. Richmond, Surrey: Harlequin Mills & Boon, 2007.

Friday, June 19, 2009

Romance, Villainy and BDSM

Sarah's at Romancing the Blog today, discussing BDSM, and particularly sadomasochism, in romance:
while the world has changed enough that it is mostly unacceptable to use homosexuality as a short-cut symbol of depravity, sadism is a natural, obvious, and logical replacement in popular romance.

Ironically, even BDSM romances use sadism as a marker for villainy. [...] Almost all romances that bill themselves as BDSM romances [...] are actually D/s romances, following a relationship as it’s built through sexual power exchange, a formal, ritualized version of the underlying power negotiations of ALL popular romance, vanilla or kinky. The bad characters, though, are sadists or masochists. [...] True sadism and masochism are usually a sign, even in BDSM romance, that something isn’t quite right with a character.
Since I've just finished reading Amanda Quick's The River Knows I thought I'd provide an example of a masochistic villain: Elwin Hastings, murderer, blackmailer and the organiser of fraudulent financial schemes is finally brought to justice when he is found alive but "face up on a bed covered in black silk, his wrists and ankles shackled to the bedposts. He was naked. There was a gag in his mouth" (340-41). It should perhaps be noted that the wife he attempted to murder was also his dominatrix, and it was she who "taught him everything he knows about manipulating money and the greed that consumes most people" (318). She is also a murderer and one of the novel's villains. It remains unclear whether or not BDSM was actually her sexual preference, however, or whether she engaged in it primarily because she believed that "once you comprehend those things that a man desires above all else, you have him in your power" (321).

If you'd like to join in the discussion with Sarah, please head over to Romancing the Blog.
  • Quick, Amanda. The River Knows. London: Piatkus: 2008.

The photo is from Wikimedia Commons, was taken by Fred Holland Day and is intended to represent St. Sebastian.

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Touring Harlequin's Past: Executive Editor Marsha Zinberg

Harlequin is celebrating its 60th anniversary this year and today we're welcoming Harlequin's Executive Editor, Marsha Zinberg, to the blog. She's here to talk about Harlequin's history.

was founded in 1949 in Winnipeg by a consortium that included Richard Bonnycastle, who had been a lawyer and a fur trader for the Hudson Bay Company before taking a job at an outfit called Advocate Printers. At the start, Harlequin supplied Advocate with product, reprinting British and American paperbacks — romances, westerns, detective fiction — for the Canadian market. In 1957, it became the North American distributor for Mills & Boon. (Gillmor)
In 1958, Harlequin was sold to Richard and Mary Bonnycastle, who altered the course of the company. During the next ten years, they converted the company to a public corporation, changed its name to Harlequin Enterprises, moved it to Toronto, the current corporate headquarters and, most important of all, switched to publishing exclusively romances. (Jensen 32)
Marsha Zinberg's been with Harlequin for over 25 years, and remembers buying some of the "famous firsts" that are being reprinted as part of the 60th anniversary celebrations. The
Harlequin Famous Firsts are the first Harlequin series books by New York Times bestselling authors of today and they are part of our 60th Anniversary celebrations. They include:
The Matchmakers [1986] by Debbie Macomber
Tears of the Renegade [1985] by Linda Howard
Tangled Lies [1984] by Anne Stuart
Moontide [1985] by Stella Cameron
State Secrets [1985] by Linda Lael Miller
Uneasy Alliance [1984] by Jayne Ann Krentz
Night Moves [1985] by Heather Graham
Impetuous [1996] by Lori Foster
The Cowboy and the Lady [1982] by Diana Palmer
Fit to be Tied [1988] by Joan Johnston
Captivated [1986] by Carla Neggers
Bronze Mystique
[1984] by Barbara Delinsky.
The original years of publication should be linked to pages showing the original covers. You can take a look at more vintage Harlequin covers in The Walrus.
Covers have always been an integral part of Harlequin’s marketing. They are known for “the clinch”: the heroine being held by the hero, eyes locked in a mutually meaningful stare. [...] All of the early books had illustrated covers, but by the late ’80s, most featured photographs, which are now sometimes treated to resemble illustrations. (Gillmor)
As part of the 60th anniversary celebrations Harlequin is
sponsoring an exhibition of original cover art that will focus not only on the changing shape of desire and fantasy but also on the social meaning and context of these images. THE HEART OF A WOMAN: Harlequin Cover Art 1949—2009 debuts at the Openhouse Gallery in New York City on May 29, 2009, and will be on view until June 12, 2009.

By presenting 60 years of cover artwork, the exhibition offers a unique insight into the profound transformations that have occurred in women's lives over the past six decades. These changes have been captured and reflected on the front of Harlequin novels—from shifts in private desires to shifts in the politics of gender. Although it is the stories of romance that charm the hearts of so many women, it is the artwork on the book covers that offers the first tantalizing hint of the pleasures that await between the covers. (Harlequin Press Release)
The Openhouse Gallery's blog includes photos of the exhibition, close-ups of some of the covers featured in the display (as well as commentaries on them - you can read the commentaries better if you click on the individual photographs to enlarge them), and photos of some of the novels on display. There are some more details about the exhibition (and photos) at the I Heart Presents blog, Smart Bitches Trashy Books, The Globe and Mail and the CNN website.

: I was wondering if you could tell us a bit more about the exhibition, Marsha, and in particular what "shifts in private desires" and "shifts in the politics of gender" you've seen in Harlequin cover art?

Marsha: As we look over the art of our covers across 60 years, it is clear to see that women’s ideas of romance and desire evolved with the times they lived in. For example, after the Second World War, when women were returned to the confines of the home after working for the war effort, their romantic desires involved exotic locations where duty, romance and adventure collided.

Heroines were strong and confident, and often pushed the boundaries of traditional female behavior. Nurse/doctor narratives dominated Harlequin romances in the 1950’s and well into the 60’s, possibly reflecting women’s longing for the workplace challenges and opportunities that had been offered to them only a decade earlier during the height of World War II. Also, nursing was one of the few professional opportunities open to women….and it allowed them access to a very desirable hero, the doctor!

Into the 60’s and 70’s, when the women’s movement really began to take hold, the covers displayed women in the foreground, literally and figuratively, with men relegated to the background, where they were mere “accessories” to the story that surrounded the newly-empowered women, perhaps depicting that women were beginning to understand their own place in the world.

By the 80’s readers were being treated to visually complex covers made famous as “bodice rippers”. Men’s bodies were becoming objectified by their lack of clothing and hyper-masculinity. At a time when women were reaching unprecedented positions of power in the workplace, these covers were more romantically nostalgic than in any previous decade, perhaps indicating a dichotomy between personal success and personal desires.

The 90’s showed even further objectification of the male form, with women often appearing “on top” and in control of the romantic tryst.

As we move into the new century, the man as an object of desire has progressed. The woman is still seen on the covers, but the half-naked hyper-masculine man continues to take centre stage and the romantic themes run into the erotic. The desirability of the hero seems more linked to his beautifully developed body than to other signifiers of his wealth, accomplishment or occupation. Women have fully embraced their sexuality and their specific desires. It’s a far cry from the desires and gender roles of 60 years ago – and to study that evolution through our cover art is quite remarkable.

Laura: Most of the Famous Firsts date from the 1980s. It was an interesting decade for the genre, and for Harlequin:
In 1981, when Simon & Schuster launched Silhouette Books to challenge Harlequin's domination of the market for short, sweet romance novels [...], most forms of the romance genre derived from British models and most writers hailed from Great Britain or the Commonwealth. Harlequin [...] did not at that time publish its own books at all. Instead, its entire list of paperback romances consisted of reprints of novels that were originally acquired, edited, and published by the British firm of Mills and Boon. [...] Before the publication of the first Silhouette Romances, Harlequin had very little competition as a publisher of category romances in North America. (Mussell & Tuñón 1)
Harlequin also had little interest in publishing romances by American authors:
According to American writers who tried to break into the market in the late 1970s, the firm showed little interest in recruiting writers from North America or in expanding the typical settings of their books into North American locales. (Mussell & Tuñón 2-3)
Silhouette took a rather different approach: "Silhouette's first editor in chief, Kate Duffy, handled the [...] manuscripts by American writers that Harlequin had rejected" (Grescoe 161). The "War of Love," as Grescoe terms it (153), had begun and:
by the mid-1980s the competition was especially keen, with Harlequin, Silhouette, Dell's Candlelight Ecstasy line, Berkley's To Have and To Hold and Second Chance at Love, and others all vying for the same market. Harlequin entered the contest with its own series of Harlequin American Romances, with American authors and settings, to compete directly with Silhouette. In 1984, however, Harlequin bought Silhouette Books from Simon and Schuster, thus ending the most intense competition in the market. (Mussell & Tuñón 5)
Laura: What was it like working at Harlequin during this period? Could you tell us a bit more about how some of the Famous Firsts were acquired and the early careers of some of these authors?

Marsha: I began at Harlequin in 1983, and was hired as an assistant editor on the Superromance line, which had in fact been publishing longer romances by North American authors since 1980, when the line first began and was envisioned as a “longer Harlequin Presents”. At that time, they were often over 90,000 words long, so we really were trying to give the reader a substantial story!

Mills and Boon, which was responsible for our original Harlequin Romance and Harlequin Presents lines, was bought by Harlequin in 1972, and so their original material for us, some written by North American authors, in fact dated from the 70’s! In addition the Harlequin American romance line, when I began with the company, there was a special project underway, which had a code name: I think it was called Project 229---and that became the Temptation line!

They had begun to acquire manuscripts with more sensual content---though of course, by today’s standards, those books are pretty tame. I do remember that both Barbara Delinsky and Jayne Ann Krentz, as well as Vicki Lewis Thompson, were very early contributors to that line, and while Barbara and Jayne went on fairly rapidly to establish mainstream careers, they continued to write series romance for us.

As I moved up the ranks at Superromance, I acquired a number of Vicki Lewis Thompson titles for Superromance as well. Stella Cameron was also quite an early contributor to Superromance, while Debbie Macomber and Linda Lael Miller were establishing themselves with the Silhouette series. Debbie wrote for both houses, Harlequin and Silhouette, for quite a while, as did many of the authors, and often with different pseudonyms for each house. We always had to know who wrote under which name for what house…authors had multiple identities as a matter of course in those days!

Many of the authors in the Famous Firsts collection date the beginnings of their careers to about twenty-five years ago, which is when there was so much excitement and growth in our industry. As a newbie, I didn’t actually appreciate all that activity and competition then as I do now, when I can look back on it nostalgically. We were all madly acquiring then, with few constraints. We couldn’t get enough product out there to satisfy the voracious market, it seemed!

: I know some new trends we've seen lately have been the rise of paranormal romance and erotic romance, and millionaires seem to be evolving into billionaires. Anne McAllister recently wrote that twenty-five years ago, "Kids were not thick on the pages of books," which made me want to ask you about that. When did secret babies become so popular? How do you think the genre's continued to change and what's remained constant since the Famous Firsts were written?

Marsha: Anne is quite right that “kids were not thick on the pages of books” twenty-five years ago, but I do think the secret baby theme has been a classic for quite a while. It’s just that the focus shifted. The children in the plotlines came into the forefront more, as the plots more and more reflected contemporary society, which was dealing with the reality of single mothers, blended families and the baggage that heroines now routinely carried with them.

As the heroines aged, it was logical that a protagonist in her late twenties or early thirties was likely not a virgin, and likely not alone in the world. She had responsibilities and obligations, and they figured into her ability to commit to a relationship. So the family became more entrenched in certain plotlines…often serving as the main external conflict…and it was the stumbling block the hero and heroine had to resolve in order to have their happily-ever-after.

I do recall that as we discovered that women were actually drawn to babies and young children on the cover, we began to write about that aspect of the story in the back cover copy, to assure them that the children were part of the story…secret or not. And of course, when we discovered that the sight of a strong, handsome man cradling an infant or tenderly interacting with a young child melted female hearts, that element became another “classic” that has endured into romances of today.

Plotlines continue to reflect contemporary society, but I would be foolish not to mention that an alpha hero is still very appealing to a lot of modern women, and I can’t see that appeal vanishing any time soon.

Laura: The "1st Annual Romance Writers of America Conference was held in June 1981" (RWA) and Alison Kent's stated about the RWA that
I learned everything I need to know about writing fiction from workshops, articles, conferences, contest feedback, networking, critiques . . . none of which I would have received on the outside. I wouldn’t even have known where to go to find the information I needed on craft if not for RWA. Granted, this was prior to the days of Google, but I still believe RWA can give anyone a master class in writing fiction.
Has the RWA and the way it's worked to teach authors the craft of writing had an effect on your work as an editor?

Marsha: Certainly as this industry has matured, there has been a decided uptick in the professionalism of the authors, and that includes both their technical abilities and the attitude to and knowledge about the business side of publishing. The hands-on, one-on-one work I do with an author has not been affected by the RWA, but the quality of the work that’s being submitted, the format in which it is submitted, and the author’s participation in the selling/marketing of their work through their own P.R. efforts has definitely improved over the years, and I can’t help but imagine that all the information and networking providing by RWA has helped that process along.

Laura: And finally, since this is a blog which approaches the genre from "an academic perspective," how do you feel about some Harlequin romances being studied as literature rather than being seen as "a quality product, a kind of guarantee of an easy, thrilling, and satisfying read with an obligatory happy ending" (McAleer 2)?

Marsha: I think it’s great. I have a master’s degree in English and always thought “literature” would be my life. Luckily, my views have broadened enough to know that literature contributes a segment to my pleasure reading, which is an important part of my life, but Harlequin romances are a very successful and beloved example of a genre, and there is a lot to be learned from any kind of genre writing—mystery, thriller, Western, paranormal--because it teaches discipline, adherence to certain agreed-upon parameters, and creativity in presenting a set of circumstances in a fresh, appealing way. There are only a certain number of archetypes in story-telling, “literature” or genre fiction, and creating compelling characters and an engaging plot line is not circumscribed by the type of fiction you are trying to create. Good writing is good writing….we can all learn from it, and we can and do all enjoy it!

Laura: Thank you very much for visiting Teach Me Tonight, Marsha!

If you'd like to read more about the stories behind the creation of the "Famous First" novels, you might want to visit the other stops in Marsha's blog tour:

June 1 --- BookBinge (what "
prompted the ideas for their books")
June 2 --- Plot Monkeys (changes in technology have affected editors and authors)
June 3 --- Blaze Authors blog (on differing writing processes)
June 4 --- Romance Junkies (more on writing processes)
June 5 --- Romancing the Blog ("
the real person behind the story")
June 8 --- Dear Author ("flux and constants in the romance industry")
June 9 --- Cataromance ("a few interesting facts and viewpoints")
June 15 --- The Good, the Bad and the Unread ("
the books that [...] turned them on to romance")
June 18 --- Pink Heart Society ("how they marked [...] the sale of their first book, and their first placement on national bestseller list")
June 22 --- The Misadventures of Super Librarian (Summing up readers' comments to the posts on the tour: "The majority of our readers start young," "Presents is often the first series read," and more).

Thursday, June 04, 2009

Elsie Washington/Rosalind Welles: Entwined Destinies

I've mentioned Elsie Washington very briefly here before, but via the Smart Bitches I came across a sad item of news:
under the pen name Rosalind Welles, journalist Elsie Washington published Entwined Destinies. The book is widely considered the first contemporary black romance, inspiring a new generation of ethnic novelists. Washington died at age 66 in New York City on May 5. [...]

Guided by Vivian Stephens, the first black romance editor, Washington spun a tale with all the traditional romance elements — attraction, longing, obstacles to overcome and, ultimately, commitment — against a glamorous, international backdrop. Suddenly, black wasn't only poor or pathological. It wasn't just victims.

"The important thing about Elsie's work is it established the romance novels that followed in the next 20 years as books about the African-American middle class," said Gwendolyn Osborne, a contributor to The Romance Reader, a popular Web site for online reviews. (Grigsby Bates, NPR)

There's an obituary in the New York Times which gives some more details about the book:
The 575th title in Dell’s Candlelight Romance series, “Entwined Destinies” was published under the pen name Rosalind Welles. It tells the story of a beautiful young black woman, a magazine correspondent, who after many travails finds love with a tall, dashing black man, an oil company executive.

In 2002 Black Issues Book Review said the novel was “the first known romance featuring African-American characters written by an African-American author.”

“Entwined Destinies” was Ms. Washington’s only novel.
The obituary in the Los Angeles Times quotes Washington:
In an interview with the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel some years ago, Washington said she prepared herself to write her novel by reading scores of romances.

"I treated it seriously," she said. "It was the very first ethnic romance. For all I knew, maybe it was going to be the only one. So I wanted to get a whole spectrum of black folks in the book."

Tuesday, June 02, 2009

Remembering Edith Layton

AAR just posted the news that
Edith Layton passed away this morning following a long bout with ovarian cancer. [...] Ms. Layton was one of the bloggers at the popular Word Wenches blog and Susan King reports that [...] a tribute will be posted in which readers and friends are invited to post their thoughts for the family.
I'd just like to quote something Edith herself wrote, not so very long ago:
When I think of helping my country, some immediate pictures spring to mind. Photos I've seen in old newsreels: Factory workers assembling things on assembly lines. Farmers plowing, harvesting, sowing in fields.

Miners with sooty faces. Steel workers amidst blazing furnaces.

Teachers in their classrooms. Houses being built. Rosie the Riveter riveting.

I can't do any of those things. What I do is write. And mostly I write about Romance. For the first time in a long time, that made me feel inadequate. [...]

And then I got to thinking about it. What the world needs now is love. [...] I hoped I was encouraging readers to dream, to seek, to hope itself. [...] That's when I realized what love's got to do with it. Love is what we need now to see us through tough times ahead.